Procedural History – In 2002, the State appealed the decision by the District Court that required the State to provide Nicholson with effective counsel. The appeal was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Question Presented – The amicus brief argues that the District Court was correct in ruling that mothers are entitled to effective counsel in neglect proceedings. Despite arguments from the State that counsel should be decided on a case by case basis, the Brennan Center argues that providing counsel in all cases where custody could be terminated is an essential constitutional obligation that the State must uphold to protect the due process rights of parents.
In Detail – In the case of People of the State of New York v. Nicholson McCoy, the District Court ruled that the City may not remove children from mothers when the sole basis for the removal is that the mother is the victim of domestic violence, and that such mothers are entitled to effective counsel in their neglect proceedings. The state appealed the District Court’s ruling on the grounds that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services requires a case-by-case determination of the right to counsel.
The Brennan Center’s amicus brief argues in favor of a right to counsel in cases like McCoy’s, where parental rights are at stake. The brief argues that the State’s interpretation of Lassiter is both incorrect and dangerous. By requiring a case by case determination of the right to counsel, the State would risk violating parents’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law. In Lassiter, the Supreme Court ruled that due process requires the appointment of counsel if the private interest at stake, and the risk of erroneous deprivations in the absence of counsel, weighed against each other, favor appointing counsel. The Brennan Center argues that by applying the Lassiter principle to the case of members of subclass A defendants, which include parents in cases of neglect, the District Court, in the instant case, was correct in ruling that all members of this subclass have a constitutional right to counsel.